The first part of the film revolves around Ruth, visualized as a pagan idolatress in her youth who serves as the spiritual teacher of a young Moabitess girl, Tebah, who is being prepared to be sacrificed to Chemosh, a Moabite deity. Unhappy with the ritual crown created for Tebah, high-priestess Eleilat, along with Ruth, instruct Mahlon, the Judean artisan, to revamp the crown with jewels and glitter. Mahlon delivers the crown to Ruth at the temple, and he begins to question her about the existence of Chemosh. Ruth becomes doubtful of her religion and ultimately falls in love with Mahlon, sharing an interest in monotheism.
The non-biblical part ends with the sight of the Moabite girl being sacrificed, from which a distressed Ruth flees. The Moabites condemn Mahlon, his father Elimelech, and brother Chilion. Chilion and Elimelech die in the prison, while Mahlon's punishment is to work at the quarries for the rest of his life. Ruth, however, attempts to escape with Mahlon, but he is wounded before he flees the quarries and dies in a cave afterwards, marrying Ruth just prior to his death.
The biblical storyline begins as Naomi (who was married to Elimelech), Orpah (who was married to Chilion), and Ruth are widowed. The second part is based more on the Book of Ruth, although a subplot is added, that of the Bethlehemites' initial disapproval of Ruth's pagan past and Naomi's closest kinsman rejecting Ruth as his wife. As the next of kin after him, Boaz successfully obtains Ruth's hand in marriage. As the film concludes, the final verses of the Book of Ruth are quoted.
Susan Strasberg, a contender for the role Ruth, was tested in September 1959. Other actresses who tested for the role were Susan Kohner, Tina Louise, Diane Baker, and Millie Perkins. Israeli actress Elana Cooper and Swedish actress Ulla Jacobsson arrived in Los Angeles in September 1959 to test for the role. Myrna Fahey, who had recently signed a contract with 20th-Century Fox, was also tested. In October 1959, Cooper was cast as Ruth, changed her name from "Elana Cooper" to "Elana Eden," and signed a "term pact" with the studio.
Stephen Boyd was first cast as Boaz but later turned down the role and said: "I think the picture would be much better without me." Boyd later played Nimrod in John Huston's The Bible: In the Beginning... (1966), another biblical epic released by 20th-Century Fox. Stuart Whitman replaced Boyd as Boaz in December 1959.
Helen Hayes and Irene Dunne were offered the role of Naomi before Peggy Wood was cast.
The Story of Ruth received favorable reviews upon release. Variety called it "a refreshingly sincere and restrained Biblical drama, a picture that elaborates on the romantic, political and devotional difficulties encountered by the Old Testament heroine." Daniel A. Poling, editor of the Christian Herald, described the film as "[g]loriously cast and faultlessly directed." Time considered it "commendably unepic."
Carl Lane, writing for the Evening Independent, praised Elana Eden's performance as "a flesh and blood Ruth of passion and compassion, of tenderness and dignity, a woman of whom the viewer tells himself on leaving the theater: 'This is Ruth as she must have been. She could have been no other.'" Poling believed Eden's portrayal of Ruth was "worthy of an Oscar," and Variety described it as "a performance of dignity," as she projects "an inner strength through a delicate veneer." Peggy Wood's performance also received high commendation from critics. Variety noticed her "excellent characterization of Naomi" and acknowledged that her "timing is always sharp." Lane thought she "creates an unforgettable character. Patience, faith, wisdom, all mature within her as the story progresses." Of both performances, Boxoffice wrote: "This personal and human tale benefits by the realistic portrayals of the beautiful Israeli actress Miss Eden and the mature Miss Wood, who play together with touching affinity."Dell Four Color #1144 (September 1960)